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Agencies question Afghan aid drops

Refugee camp in northern Afghanistan
U.N. officials have promised aid agencies about $600 million to help Afghanistan  

LONDON, England -- International aid agencies have criticised the military action in Afghanistan for combining humanitarian action with a military campaign.

In the first wave of attacks on Afghanistan, on Sunday, the U.S. said it dropped 37,500 food packages from two planes.

Each packet provides at least 2,200 calories per day. The United States has a stockpile of about two million packages.

They are designed to float down to the ground rather than drop straight down to minimise the possibility that they could hit and injure someone.

"It's not an effort against the Afghan people," U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said of the military operation. "Indeed, we are providing humanitarian assistance."

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The Pentagon reviews the first night of airstrikes.CNN's Jamie McIntyre reports (October 8)

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U.S. Defense Sec Donald Rumsfeld speaks to CNN's Paula Zahn (October 8)

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Humanitarian daily ration
Each yellow plastic container of "humanitarian daily rations" is about the size of a hardcover book. The pouches, airdropped by the U.S. military to assist Afghan civilians, contains a day's worth of food for one person. The rations comply to Muslim dietary laws. A typical 2,200-calorie package may contain the following items:
  • Bean salad
  • Rice and beans
  • Crackers
  • Peanut butter
  • Raisins
  • Flat bread
  • Strawberry jam
  • Apple fruit bar
  • Utensils package

  • Sources: Defense Supply Center and the Associated Press

    But international medical aid agency Medecins Sans Frontiers said the humanitarian action was "a piece of military propaganda aimed at making the U.S.-led attack more acceptable to international opinion."

    "What sense is there in shooting with one hand, and giving medicine with the other?" the group asked.

    A spokesman for Oxfam -- a UK-based development, relief, and campaigning organisation -- told Reuters: "We would say that...what's being done is confused and almost completely unprepared for a crisis of this scale.

    "Dropping things from the air is more PR than a well prepared aid effort. Air drops are very random.

    "You don't know whether you are dropping food to a city, you don't know if you're dropping food to the Taliban, you don't know if you're dropping food to the people who need it."

    The food drops are seen by the U.S. and Britain as evidence that their military campaign is aimed at the Taliban, and not the Afghan population.

    UK Prime Minister Tony Blair told the House of Commons on Monday: "We have established an effective coalition to deal with the humanitarian crisis in the region, which of course existed before 11 September.

    "Our priority has been to re-establish food supply routes into Afghanistan. Some 5,000 tonnes of food went in during the last fortnight, thanks to the efforts of the UN and other international agencies.

    "At the U.N. meeting in Geneva over the weekend, donors pledged $600m including the UK's own commitment of $55m."

    In a similar statement, Rumsfeld told CNN: "We were already the largest food donor in Afghanistan earlier this year before September 11, with some $170 million and the $320 million program that the president announced and will be joined by other nations is something that's urgently needed by the Afghan people."

    But a spokesman for UK-based agency Christian Aid described the aid packages as "inadequate."

    John Davison said that according to United Nations figures, the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan has worsened since the September 11 terror attacks on the U.S.

    "This clearly presents the coalition partners with a huge responsibility with which the dropping of a few thousand ration packs is wholly inadequate," Davison said.

    The U.N. has estimated that 55,000 tons of food needs to be delivered to Afghanistan every month to feed around six million people.

    "That would be about 1,800 separate Hercules flights a month. You just can't do it," Davison said.

    He added: "A credible international relief effort must be put together soon because otherwise, on the U.N.'s own figures, seven and a half million people could be dead come spring -- an interesting way to win hearts and minds."

    Meanwhile, the first major ground shipment of food aid arrived in Afghanistan on Tuesday after crossing the Iranian border, a U.N. aid official said.

    The 100-ton donation from Britain was taken by Afghan truckers toward the northwestern city of Herat, about 110 kilometers (65 miles) from the Iranian border town of Dogharoun, said Marius de Gaay Fortman, a World Food Programme coordinator.

    The shipment came after more than a week of negotiations with Afghan drivers and could open the way for an aid corridor into western Afghanistan. Relief supplies have already moved into other parts of Afghanistan from Pakistan.

    "This is very good news," Fortman told AP.

    "We are able to bring the food to the people rather than have the people come to the food."

    The WFP plans to send more than 1,000 tons of wheat flour across the border in coming days, he said.


    • Taliban offers deal on aid workers
    October 6, 2001
    • Aid in the firing line
    August 10, 2001
    • Rumsfeld assesses U.S. strike
    October 8, 2001

    • Medecins Sans Frontieres
    • Oxfam
    • U.N. Refugee Agency
    • Christian Aid

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